Paula Cooper Gallery
534 West 21st St. between Tenth & Eleventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through October 7, 10:00 am - 6:00 pm
If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Christian Marclay’s “Phones” exhibition at Paula Cooper is a statement about the demise of the old-fashioned corded landline telephone in the face of the mobile phone revolution. But you’re likely to be surprised that the three works all date back to the 1990s, a generation before the latest technology took over. The sixty-two-year-old California-born Swiss and American artist has been exploring the evolving nature of sound and image throughout his career, as highlighted by his multidisciplinary “Festival” show at the Whitney in 2010. The three-part exhibit at Paula Cooper is centered by 1990’s “Boneyard,” a large room filled with 750 white hydrostone casts of handheld telephone receivers, together resembling a graveyard of scattered bones. But here it is the disconnected phone parts that are dead, victims of time. Marclay displays how old phones were used in the seven-minute 1995 video Telephones, consisting of scenes from movies in which phones ring, characters pick them up and say hello, listen to the person on the other end, engage in brief conversations, then say goodbye and hang up, forming mysterious narratives; Marclay would expand the idea to his international favorite The Clock, a captivating twenty-four-hour film of timepieces in movies that played to packed houses at Paula Cooper, MoMA, and Lincoln Center a few years ago. And in another room is “Extended Phone II,” a winding length of dark plastic tubing, evoking a garden hose, that is an outdated, overly thick phone cord. The long separation between base and handset represents the physical distance between callers, which in the modern age is no more because of such apps as FaceTime and Skype. If you have kids, be sure to bring them, as “Phones” is like a diorama at the American Museum of Natural History, a trio of renderings of extinct existence, of what once was and will never be again.